‘They’re hurtling towards a crisis point’: How our local farmers are dealing with this summer’s heatwave

Hampshire NFU chairman Andrew Malyon, dairy farmer, pictured at his farm, Goathouse Farm, North Boarhunt, Fareham
Hampshire NFU chairman Andrew Malyon, dairy farmer, pictured at his farm, Goathouse Farm, North Boarhunt, Fareham
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While for some of us 2018 has been a British summer to remember with its blistering heatwave, for farmers it’s been a tumultuous time.

As temperatures topped 35.1C, the agricultural industry has faced challenging times, with unfruitful harvests and extra work to keep livestock cool and produce watered.

Johnny Denman

Johnny Denman

Johnny Denman, a specialist in rural insurance from West Sussex, said some farmers could be dealing with the consequences of the hot and dry weather for many months to come – ultimately leading to a rise in prices of goods.

He said: ‘Farmers are hurtling towards a crisis point.We have not seen weather like this in decades, and although people up and down the country are enjoying a break from the gloomy British summertime, it is sinking in that such unrelenting hot weather can have dire consequences, evidenced by the current public health warnings.

‘Farmers have been battling to survive during this heatwave, faced with drought conditions, tinderbox fields, and livestock they can’t feed – they are growing increasingly desperate with every day.

‘Crop yields are down, at least 10 per cent, due to the dryness.  Crops stopped growing six weeks ago, resulting in food shortages for livestock and poor harvests.

Will Dobson, MD of Hill Farm Orchards in Hampshire, inspecting the cox apples

Will Dobson, MD of Hill Farm Orchards in Hampshire, inspecting the cox apples

‘There is no grass for cows to graze and farmers are being forced to use their winter stocks – which are already low – to keep them going.  This paves the way for a very challenging six months ahead.

‘And the worst could be yet to come.  Experts are warning that extreme heatwaves in the summer could be the new norm, leaving agricultural businesses’ futures hanging in the balance.’

Mr Denman said that farmers are feeling the effects of the hot weather in other ways too.

He recounted cases where sheepdogs, lambs and calves have died in extreme heat, and wildfires have been making headlines up and down the country.  

Andrew Malyon, dairy farmer at Goathouse Farm in Boarhunt, said that keeping livestock was proving challenging.

He said: ‘We have 260 dairy cows and our young stock is still out on the fields.

‘We are having to supplement their diet with full rations because there’s no grass for them to graze on.’

Mr Malyon also sits as the Chief for the National Farmers Union in the Hampshire region.  

He said: ‘As soon as cows calve we are keeping them on full winter rations. Dairy cows are on straw. Milk sales have dropped considerably and costs have gone up for feeding the cows.

‘Farmers are having to buy silages from elsewhere because what they’ve grown has already been fed. It’s increasing our costs even more.’

He said that this will mean the price of goods in the supermarkets would inevitably rise.

But it is not just grazing animals suffering from the sun, fruit farmers have also not been faring so well with low yields.

Will Dobson, managing director at Hill Farm Orchards in Swanmore, said: ‘We sell apples and pears and they’re a bit small because there just isn’t enough water. It has reduced the amount of disease among the fruit because of the dryness but the trees are now showing signs of stress.

‘We need to harvest them at the beginning of September.

‘We have a pick your own event in line with the October half term but can’t offer it if the apples don’t do well.’

However, Mr Dobson said the farm has also seen a benefit of the hot weather.

He said: ‘We use our apples for juicing and sell our Hill Farm juice. Our sales have been through the roof because it’s really hot. But that means we are running short and need harvest to arrive.’  

Steve Lowrie, who works in sales at Hambledon Vineyard, said the weather has also brought good fortune – with 2018 looking to be an outstanding year for English wine.

He said: ‘The weather has worked in our favour, the cold April meant the buds came too early and late frost made them vulnerable.

‘But flowering came at the right time and has set it up right.

‘And because of the weather the sugar content will be good this year.

‘The fruit hasn’t been exposed to mildew and the rain has helped us grow another 230,000 new vines which is great because we only use our own grapes. We’re able to do more exports and helps us expand.

‘Plus sales have been great – especially on Rosé.’